I chose to read The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories solely for the title story, which is one of Petrik’s most beloved short stories he’s ever read. Thankfully, Ken Liu proved to be an astonishingly gifted writer. I’ve heard his work referred to as graceful, and I can’t think of a more apt description. The man has a marvelous way with words. You can tell that every single sentence was crafted with care. This collection of stories is unlike anything else I’ve ever read in my life. While I didn’t love every single story, those I did love had a profound effect on me, and I honestly believe that I will still be thinking about them for months, if not years, to come. Below are my (very random) thoughts on each story. I’ve left said thoughts in their raw state. While I wanted to share quotes from the stories themselves, I highlighted far too many to sift through. I highly recommend this collection if you want something that will make you think deeply and treat others with greater kindness. More of Liu’s work is definitely in my future.
The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species = 5 stars
Insanely thoughtful and original. What each of these alien races and their manner of preserving ideas says about human nature is fascinating. And absolutely delightful. One of my favorites.
State Change = 5 stars
Soul as external, inanimate object, and how said object defines your personality. Candle, feather, ice cube, etc. But what if you were wrong about what your object was? This was a brilliant story. Flawless. Also, the inclusion of T.S. Eliot made me very happy. My other favorite.
The Perfect Match = 3 stars
Reads like a more hopeful episode of Black Mirror.
Good Hunting = 4 stars
Chinese magic being siphoned or somehow depleted by Western influence via iron railroad. Bad feng shui on a national level. Made Westerners seem callous to the point of evil. But the loss of the magic could be restored in a way by this new magic of technology, if one were willing to go through unspeakable pain to make themselves feel whole again.
The Literomancer: = 4 stars
Like reading a Studio Ghibli movie. Until it became devastatingly sad. It’s amazing how much hidden meaning can be found within a word.
Simulacrum = 3 stars
This one was just depressing. Whatever way you relive a moment over and over again, the end result is that you miss out on so much in the present.
The Regular = 2.5 stars
Not a bad little crime story, but forgettable.
Paper Menagerie = 5 stars
Beautiful and devastating. I love the idea of literally breathing life into art. Also, I appreciate my mom’s love for me more than ever.
An Advanced Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition = 3.5 stars
Beautiful beginning. Very atmospheric. I got lost in some of the science, but still lovely.
The Waves = 4 stars
Almost feels like a continuation of the previous story. Possibly the most sci-fi thing I’ve ever read. Insanely creative.
Mono No Aware = 4 stars
Another subtle continuation. Subtle is the right word for this story. It’s quietly heroic and as achingly lovely as a haiku.
All the Flavors = 3.5 stars
Very long. Though it was a sweet and deep and enjoyable story, I had a hard time maintaining focus while reading it.
A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel = 3 stars
Interesting premise for an alternate history but incredibly sad. Could have used a bit more development.
The Litigation Master and the Monkey King = 4 stars
This started off amusing and took a dark and heartbreaking turn. Anyone can be a hero.
The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary = 4.5 stars
Profound. Is history actually subjective? The descriptions of what took place in Unit 731 were absolutely appalling. Rarely does anything I read make me feel physically ill, but this story did. The callousness of this torture “for science” is frankly unbelievable, even though I know it actually happened. How can humanity dehumanize other humans to such an extent? Even those discussing such travesties of the past can often find a way to shrug them off or claim that they’re being over exaggerated. It’s infuriating. But the story itself is so, so powerful.